Today's defeat was crushing from a Michigan standpoint. The defense played better than expected, but the offense was just terrible. In my eyes Michigan just went from a contender with some question marks to a team that will have to struggle to stay in the Big Ten hunt. Still, with a healthy Hart this could have been a Michigan win. It was obvious that the coaching staff lost patience with Grady after his third fumble of the season and went to Henne for two straight QB-sneaks. With Hart in the game, I think that both of those goal line sequences unfold differently.
Even with all that went wrong, Michigan still had a great chance to send it to OT late with the ball at midfield and 2 minutes to play. The way this game ended brings back bad memories of games against Iowa, Ohio State, Oregon and yes, even Notre Dame last year. Michigan had a chance to win all of those games but ultimately came up one big play short.
Michigan can still go 10-1 and play in the Rose Bowl, but does anybody really see that happening? Even if Hart comes back healthy, it is looking like a 9-2 kind of a year. If we don't solve the RB situation and the OL stays banged up, this could be a long, long season. Like a 6-5 long season (what happens if Michigan plays against Iowa, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State like they played against Notre Dame today?). Last week the buzzword was defensive intensity, this week it will have to be offensive consistency.
Finally, before I get to my game thoughts, I was very disappointed with the way that the replays played out today. It was obvious that Henne fumbled on the goal line and that it was recovered by ND, but to arrive at that, you had to look at two different camera angles and piece that together. Good call by the officials, but why not review the play before where it looked like Henne initially got in? On the Brady Quinn fumble it appeared to me that the ball was moving in his arms before his knee went down. That came down to a judgment call and I thought that they should have stuck with the ruling on the field of a fumble. I'm just crying over spilled grapes at this point, but I think that I like the NFL replay system better than the one in college. Everybody will hail the great coaching effort by Weis, but that is just BS. His offense didn't adjust at all late and it almost cost him. His worst coaching move of the game came late when he called the pass play that led to the Quinn scramble that led to the overruled fumble. Why even risk it there? The official in the booth sees something a little differently and all of a sudden Weis is a goat not a hero for a terrible call late in the game. Even with all this that went wrong out of Michigan's control, they still should have won this game. There is absolutely no excuse for having THREE redzone turnovers and being unable to run the ball consistently all day. Notre Dame is a good team, but Michigan lost this game today. On to the game thoughts:
-Notre Dame ran a no-huddle early and it led to a TD, but Michigan adjusted well to it. Good sign for this defense.
-Early in the game the Michigan defense was still surrendering the corner to the run too easily, but they got better as the game went on.
-Notre Dame did a good job of not giving Hart any room to run in the middle of the field. Great effort by their D-line.
-The Michigan O-line struggled all day to pick up the blitz. I'm going to mark this down to the injuries up front, but it got Henne rattled and that showed late in the game.
-Michigan's defense didn't much pressure on Quinn early and it showed. Later when they went to blitz packages he started rushing throws and throwing behind the receivers. Absolutely night and day.
-Leon Hall looked very good coming up in run support. Grant Mason was bad early but got better as the day went on.
-Overall Michigan's tackling was MUCH, MUCH better this week. Far less arm tackles and far more stopping somebody cold and waiting for help.
-ND did a great job on punt coverage. There was almost always somebody in Breaston's face as he caught the ball.
-Henne made a terrible read on the interception that he threw. He had a receiver wide open in the middle of the field, but his eyes never left Ecker and he tried to force a throw. Shades of Navarre to Joppru?
-Grant Mason let Brady Quinn slip out of an arm tackle on a sack and sure enough Quinn converted the first down. Tackling good, but needs to get better before we see Stanton or Tate.
-Overall I thought that ND's defense came into the game very underrated. They played well early to get the Michigan offense off its game and feeling uncomfortable, particularly Henne.
-I thought that Pierre Woods looked pretty good coming off the bench to provide some energy. If he just give Michigan five good plays a game, this defense will be better.
-I would have gone for the 4 and 3 with about 12 minutes to play. Things worked out for the better though as after a good punt, ND coughed the ball up on a fumble. Too bad Michigan gave it right back on downs....
-Finally, the deep ball to Breaston is there, but he has to learn to catch it. The TV guys blamed the two deep misses on Henne's overthrows, but both of those passes hit Breaston in the hands. I think that not playing WR until college means that he lacks some instincts that he needs to adjust to those balls in the air, but if he catches even one of these, this is an entirely different ball game. I hate to say it, but Michigan really missed Braylon Edwards today and they need to find someone to take his place stretching the defense long to make Avant effective in the underneath game.
Tough loss to stomach today, but this team should get back on its feet against Eastern Michigan next week and solve some problems going into the Big Ten season (like who is going to be a deep threat, who is going to passblock well enough to start and who is going to carry the football without fumbling it).